Cleaning up

The tons of rain that drenched the county can affect your health and home if you aren’t careful. Here are some hints from experts on minimizing damage:

Stay out of the ocean for at least three days after a big rain. The ocean will be dirtier than usual and could make you ill, said Dr. Gerald Wagner of the county Health Care Agency. Call the agency’s environmental-health office.

Watch the drinking water in your home or office. Wagner said the drains in his office building backed up the water supply, which might have affected water from drinking fountains. If you think your water supply is tainted, boil water for 5-10 minutes before using it.

Dry your carpet so it doesn’t get moldy, aggravating allergies and asthma, Wagner said.

Flood-damaged interiors and furniture can be salvaged. Here are some tips:

Odors: Set out pie tins of baking soda to absorb odors.

Draperies: Take drapes to a dry cleaner to find out if they can be cleaned and restored. An extra $2 per section usually is charged for water damage.

Carpets: For spot water damage, pull up the carpet and aim electric fans at it to speed drying, or use a water-extraction device. Companies that provide carpet-repair services will dry carpets for 21-25 cents per square foot.

Fast-dry blowers can be rented for $20 a day and water-extraction devices for $25 a day. Steam-cleaning devices from supermarkets are less expensive, but the equipment usually will not remove water as effectively.

Once the carpet is dry, use a carpet-cleaning product or sprinkle on baking soda and vacuum.

Wood floor: To minimize damage to wood floors, use a household fan to dry wood. Use a moisture meter, available from home centers or hardware stores for about $10, to determine if the flooring is dry. With three-quarter-inch Flooring Options, it might be possible to sand and refinish. Damaged sections might have to be replaced. With a veneer floor, replacement is advisable.

Sticking doors: Moisture causes wood to expand, but it should shrink in the coming weeks. If it remains a problem, the door edge can be planed down. It’s important to plane the interior edge where hinges are located, and it might be necessary to deepen hinge areas.

For interior drains that are clogged, off-the-shelf products are often sufficient. For landscape drains, use a garden hose with high-intensity nozzle. Commercial drain services charge $58-$75.

FURNITURE: Towel-dry upholstered furniture by applying pressure (do not rub), changing towels frequently. Once you’ve toweled off as much moisture as possible, use a fan to complete the drying process.

Upholstered furniture might need professional cleaning.

Leather furniture can crack as it dries, so apply a leather rejuvenator ($5-$15 per container).

Foundation: Remove standing water near the foundation as soon as possible. Build up the earth with a shovel, and pack it firmly. The water will drain away.

Calling pro takes sting out of stirring up bees

If you find a swarm of honeybees on your property, some experts recommend that you treat it as an Africanized swarm and keep everyone away from it.

Do not disturb the swarm or try to remove it yourself. Check the Yellow Pages under “Bee Removal”or “Pest Control Services”, current specials and have a professional remove the swarm.

To prevent bees from settling in your garden or house, professionals recommend that you:

Cover or fill all holes 1/7-inch in diameter or larger in block walls, trees or cactuses .

Caulk cracks in the roof, walls, and the foundation .

Check for separation between the chimney and the house, and make sure chimneys are properly covered.

Place window-screen mesh over rain spouts, drains, attic vents and irrigation-valve boxes.

Remove any debris or trash that might serve as a shelter for bees, such as old appliances,  automobile parts, overturned clay pots, cardboard boxes, tires or stacks of crates.

Cover or fill animal burrows in the ground.

When inspecting your home or yard for bee colonies, look for bees passing into and out of an opening, or hovering in front of one, and listen for the hum of active insects. Look for colonies near the ground.

How to speed up the sale of your house

Install a brass door knob, brass door knocker, brass numbers. Brass conveys pride of ownership, says Jean Winchester of Carlson Real Estate Better Homes and Garden in Lexington.

“People extrapolate based on small pieces of information and draw larger conclusions,” explains Bruce A. Percelay, author of “Packaging Your Home for Profit” (Little, Brown) and president of The Mount Vernon Co., a Boston real estate investment company. “All these small details suggest to the buyer the owner has taken care of the property.”

Landscape the yard. Mow the lawn and your neighbor’s lawn, too, if it is overgrown. Fill window boxes with flowers, edge the garden, and lay fresh mulch on the flower beds. Trim hedges.

Touch up peeling paint. If there’s chipped paint on the front entryway, re-paint. If you paint the entire exterior, use a neutral color with bright accent colors.

Clear clutter. Remove toys and rusty cars in the driveway. Store neatly in the garage. Inside, take out winter clothes to give closets a more spacious look.

Repair leaky faucets and loose doorknobs.

Put in high wattage light bulbs. Make your house as bright as possible. If it’s a gloomy day, turn on every light in the house when showing it to buyers.

Paint the interior if dingy or dark. Choose light colors such an antique white or linen white, with bright white trim. It’s virtually impossible to offend someone with that color combination, says Percelay. If the house has not been painted in five years, do it now. Or if you remove a painting from a wall, and you can see a difference in the paint shades, re-paint the walls.

Modernize outdated kitchens. Simple, inexpensive changes can make a big difference. If the appliances sport a harvest gold or avocado green color of the ’70s, hire a re-glazing company to repaint the appliances white. Replace old bronze door handles on cabinets with shiny, brass ones.

Refinish hardwood floors. If they haven’t been touched in a decade, resand and paint with polyurethane.

Professionals say the amount of money sellers spend depends on the sales price. Spending 3 to 4 percent of the sales price can go a long way in preparing a house to sell, advises Percelay. Kitchens and bathrooms offer the biggest payback, says Winchester. If homeowners can’t afford to repair an obvious problem, keep an estimate on file to show prospective buyers, suggests Claire Dembowski of Carlson Real Estate in Swampscott.

Price the house correctly. The Number One mistake sellers owners make is to overprice, say brokers. Consumers are educated about house values these days, and they simply will not buy overpriced houses. And a house that sits unsold for more than a month can become a pariah. Agents lose interest, and buyers wonder what’s wrong.

“I try to price things so they will sell within 3 percent of that asking price. All of my listings sell within 60 days of listing if they listen to me,” says Janet Andrews of Century 21 Avant-Garde in Salem, who sells more than $8 million of property a year.

There’s another reason: Correct pricing sparks competitive offers.

Choose rio verde real estate agent carefully. Interview prospective agents, asking about experience, total sales in a year and availability. “The seller and the broker work as a team, hand and glove. It’s like riding a motorcycle. You bend and sway together. Don’t fight each other,” says Dembowski.

Adds Winchester: “Get someone who is diligent, energetic and knows the area.”

Brokers worth their commission will take the time to explain to sellers each prospective buyer’s opinions of the house, and offer suggestions on how to improve it’s appearance.

Tips for spring cleaning

If you want to hire someone to clean your home: Find out if the person or business is insured in case something is broken. Before the cleaning, discuss what services will be provided. It’s not a bad idea to put that in writing. Get an estimate. Many services will provide one free. Determine who will provide supplies. Some services bring their own supplies but many independent cleaners don’t. If you want certain supplies to be used because you’re allergic to a certain chemical or for environmental safety, for instance say so. You may have to provide them. As for straightening up the place before the maid gets there, most people do. Some don’t. Either way is all right, although one person pointed out workers can do more cleaning if they don’t have to take time to put away toys, newspapers and such. For further please visit website CommercialCeaningWilkesBarre.com.If you want to do your own post-winter cleaning, here are some things to look for: Cinders, sand and gravel have probably found their way into your carpet.

Check for cobwebs on celing fans and in corners. Dust from fireplaces and wood stoves. Filthy windows. You can use a squeegee to cut down the cleaning time. Dust balls under furniture. And here are a few recommendations from cleaning expert Don Aslett, author of “Is There Life After Housework?”. Good floor mats placed at each exterior door will catch about 80 percent of the dirt that comes into the house. Clean as you go. “Forty percent of all housework is clearing out unused things. Next year, don’t save all the year’s mess for a spring cleaning blowout. Keep clutter from accumulating by getting rid of it as it appears.” Empty your vacuum cleaner’s lint bag frequently. A half-full lint bag can increase time and energy spent by up to 50 percent. Use the right tool for the job. Use absorbent materials, such as paper towels and sponges, for spills, rather than rags.

Kitchen remodeling is the most common improvement project

Used to be that kitchens were strictly back-burner stuff. We dumped buckets of money into our living rooms, family rooms and master bedrooms. We put our money where we wanted to impress and drew an invisible curtain around the kitchen.

Statistics show that we’re staying at home more, inviting guests in instead of taking them out. As a result, the kitchen has made a dramatic rise on the it-better-look-good-and-function-well scale. Kitchens are no longer at-home orphans.

According to designer Lisa Weber, of Lisa Weber Design in Fullerton, kitchen remodeling is the most common improvement project facing consumers today. Quoting a recent article in Kitchen and Bath Business, she notes that Americans will spend $27.5 billion renovating 4.4 million kitchens.

“The average homeowner will spend a great deal of time and money remodeling the kitchen,” Weber said. “And if they haven’t researched the market, planned and shopped carefully, they can make some very costly mistakes.”

When private investors Ginger Figge and Jim Buckle moved into their 30-year-old California bungalow, the compact, 15-by-15-foot kitchen was anything but a show stopper. The home had been a rental for years.

“The home was very run-down,” said kitchen specialist Steve Salazar, who owns Kitchens del Mar and handled the remodel project. “For a small space, it did not function well.”

Goals for the kitchen remodel were threefold: reconfiguration with optimum function in mind, incorporation of functional storage space, and a clean, uncluttered look designed for easy maintenance. Because the front door of the house opens with a view directly across the dining area to the open kitchen, first impressions were a consideration.

Originally, the cooktop had been on a long counter separating the kitchen from the dining area. Not a pretty picture for arriving guests. It was relocated to a less conspicous spot on a counter facing a hall leading to the bedrooms. The move allows the dining area/kitchen counter to do double duty as a spacious kitchen work surface or dining room buffet.

To minimize its size, a 36-inch-wide, 24-inch-deep Sub-Zero refrigerator was installed flush with other built-ins. Unlike some refrigerators, it does not protrude into the kitchen, presenting an unsightly obstacle.

“Typically, with a small space, lots of our work is devoted to maximizing the storage function,” Salazar said, “and that goes right down to the TV.” Instead of simply plopping it onto a counter, it was hidden in a custom-made TV cupboard with retractable doors above a built-in oven.

Tight-space storage? The existing breakfast bar was raised six inches above the adjacent counter to buffer the sight of the relocated cooktop. Three 12-inch-deep storage cabinets were then neatly tucked under the bar.

To give a clean, crisp look that de-emphasizes the small size of the kitchen, a color palette of white with Delft blue accents was used. Durable, easy-clean Arctic white DuPont Corian replaced damaged light-blue ceramic tiles on counters. The Corian flows in solid, seamless pieces that do not distract the eye as tiles would. Delft blue appears in handmade accent tiles that fit neatly into white tile backsplashes and trims.

To anchor the white kitchen, the oak floor, which had been whitewashed, was refinished to a deeper, more natural hue, Further Details. The white opens up the kitchen, while the oak pulls it all together.

Solving construction problems

You can’t always get what you want. There’s a tradeoff among quality, quantity, and price. You can maximize any two, but you can’t have all three. If you want price and quality, you have to sacrifice quantity. If you want quality and quantity, it costs more money. The best solutions are usually a balance between competing demands. Example: You may want to use an expensive marble in the foyer of a spec home, but the cost would be prohibitive. If you use a color-coordinated tile for the flooring, and use the marble as a fireplace surround visible from the foyer; you get the best of both worlds, learn more at LaGrange Flooring America.

Break the problem into bite-size pieces. All complex problems are really a series of simple problems. Once you know what the simple problem is, address it with step-by-step solutions. There’s a difference between simple solutions and simplistic ones. A simplistic solution is an overly simple solution to a complex problem. Example: If you’re waiting to redo your forms until you have time to redo them all, they may never get done. Start with the form that needs the most help. Get it done; later, tackle another one.

Don’t use a sledge-hammer to swat mosquitoes. The solution should be proportionate to the problem. Find something that works and keep improving it. Simple solutions work best because human beings are fallible: The simpler the solution, the less likely humans will be screw it up. Example: If you have a problem with inaccurate estimates, you may need to review your procedures and unit costs. You don’t need to start all over with an expensive computerized estimating program that may, or may not, solve the problem.

The problem Isn’t solved until the solution Is implemented. Sometimes it’s easy to get a solution down on paper. The hard part is putting it in place. Get the people who’ll implement the solution involved in the problem-solving process so they’ll “own” the solution.

If you attack and solve recurring problems, you’ll have a more time to run your business effectively (rather than dealing with the same problems again and again). You’ll also discover that building houses is more fun and profitable. And that’s what it’s all about.

Buying a house at auction

There are several things to remember if you participate in an auction:

* MORTGAGE PRE-APPROVAL IS IMPERATIVE.

There is no such thing as a “financing contingency.” In most real estate auctions, a bidder will have to have certified funds of $3,000 to $5,000 as an initial down payment to participate. If a bid is successful, the bidder will be required to deposit a 5 percent down payment in 10 days and settle on the property within a month. Failure to settle may mean loss of down payment.

Any serious participant will be “pre-approved” for a loan before bidding, not only to determine the highest bid he can offer, but also to protect his down payment. There would be nothing worse than being the successful bidder only to find out that you had overbid your capacity to obtain financing.

* AUCTION PROPERTY USUALLY DOES NOT CARRY A WARRANTY.

Property at auction usually is sold “as is, where is” and carries no warranties or guaranties expressed or implied. This makes it important for buyers to preview properties that they may be interested in to determine the condition of the property. It is normally a good idea to buy a warranty to protect all major systems.

* USE A FULL-TIME REAL ESTATE AGENT.

Sellers who put their homes at auction include a sales commission in the “reserve price.” A reserve price is the minimum price the seller will accept; this usually is 25 to 30 percent less than the property is listed for.

Sellers usually place properties at auction because of the 30-day settlement and the elimination of “contingent” contracts. Although the reserve price may start at 70 percent of list price, the property usually sells for more as bidders compete against each other. Not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, so is price.

* THE BID PRICE IS NOT THE FINAL PRICE.

The bid price is for the property as if you were paying cash and does not include closing costs or the 3 percent “buyer’s reserve.” The buyer’s reserve is the way the auction company is paid for its services.

Closing costs can add 3 to 5 percent, and the buyer’s reserve usually is 3 to 5 percent of the bid price. This is another reason that buyers should get pre-approved and make sure that these costs can be included in the financing.

* CONSIDER “NO POINT” LOANS TO KEEP COSTS DOWN.

Once again, it does no good to be a successful bidder and then have to come up with a ton of cash to settle on the property.

Let’s say your bid of $100,000 is successful. Closing costs will add 3 to 5 percent, not including points; the buyer’s reserve will add 3 percent.

To keep your out-of-pocket costs down and your mortgage low, consider a “no point” loan. Points are prepaid interest and are used to lower the interest rate on the loan. If you are able to finance the closing costs and buyer’s reserve, this will add at least 6 percent to your successful bid price.

So let’s say that your final amount is $106,000. If a 30-year fixed loan is going for 9 percent with two points (this is 2 percent of $106,000) or an additional $2,120 out of pocket, the monthly principal and interest at 9 percent would be $846.55 ($106,000 x 9 percent). The same 30-year loan at no points would be 9.25 percent or a monthly principal-and-interest payment of $865.36 without having to pay the $2,120.

The difference in monthly payment is only $18.81, about 63 cents a day, but this saves you $2,120 at settlement.

Auctions can be fun and profitable for both buyers and sellers. The best advice I can give a potential bidder is to get pre-approved for the loan and use a full-time real estate austin texas agent who can help with the process. Also don’t scratch your head or wave at a friend – you may buy a home.

How to lay tile floor

Laying tile isn’t as difficult as contractors would have you believe, says Kevan King of Home Depot at Merchants Walk in Marietta.

He explains the process as a series of easy-to-understand steps. “You can break it down into little segments and work at your own pace, doing as little or as much as you please at one time.”

Of course, there are pitfalls, he warns. Here are tips for do-it-yourselfers:

What goes underneath tile is important. You can’t apply tile to a floor that has any movement, such as plywood. Linoleum also makes a poor surface. The best is concrete. Do-it-yourselfers can apply a special tile backing that goes down over other flooring. The tile is then laid on top, more information.

Precise measurements are a must. You need to know how much tile you will need. (Lay the pieces out on the floor so you can adjust for pieces that will have to be cut.) You also need to find the exact center of the room.

Timing is everything. The tiles are set in adhesive that gives you a three-to four-hour window before it hardens. Grout, the stuff that goes between the tiles, dries more quickly, in 10 to 15 minutes. You cannot grout the tiles until they have been set for 24 hours.

Clean as you go. When applying fast-drying grout, work in a small area – 3 to 4 square feet. Clean excess grout off the tiles after you’ve worked it between them. Once grout hardens, it’s very difficult to remove.

The entire project must be grouted at one time. Changes in humidity (if you wait until the next day to finish the room, for example) will cause the grout to dry in different colors.

The final step – and the one most people forget, says Mr. King – is sealing the grouted tile after it has cured for seven to 10 days. Otherwise, “the grout will soak up water, which will seep into the adhesive underneath the tile,” he says. This loosens the tile. It’s good to reseal grout annually.

Are you still working on your house?

Ideally, he’d like to find some land and build a house but his wife, Phyllis, isn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea. She remembers what living in a construction zone was like. At one point her living room served as both dining room and master bedroom.

If you’ve been thinking of tackling an addition or renovation, here’s more advice from an expert: For a large project, start in late April or early May so that you can get the bulk of the heavy labor done before the humidity of summer hits. If you start your project late in the summer, you may find yourself putting in windows during a snow storm. Don’t think of building inspectors as your enemies.

“You have to realize,” says Ed, “that building inspectors are there to guide you. The stories you hear about them are related to people who are trying to cut corners.”

“I had someone dig the basement. I put the footings in and then I hired someone to lay the block,” explains Ed. If you aren’t sure how to proceed with any aspect of construction, visit local building sites to see how the pros do it. Don’t buy every tool you need. Rent those you’ll only use once or twice. If you need concrete poured, a number of small companies only charge for what you use. Ed explains that large companies charge by the yard.

He adds that when the concrete truck arrives make sure you have enough bodies around to help spread the cement as it is poured. When you are ready to do the electrical work, be overly generous with wall plugs, three-way switches, cable TV and telephone jacks. Although high efficiency furnaces are something people think of when replacing an existing heating system, don’t overlook mid-efficiency furnaces.

“You have to look at your overall savings on fuel,” he explains. “A mid-efficiency furnace was better for us. When I looked at the difference in price between the two, it would have taken me 20 years to recover the cost of the high efficiency furnace.” If you are planning to use sheet flooring and you have an irregular-shaped floor, consider tiles learn more. Tiles can save you money because there is less cutting and therefore less waste. If your room is a high traffic area, Ed recommends commercial grade tiles. Watch for clearance items in stores. Sometimes, you can get a great deal.

“One day we were in Sescolite buying lighting fixtures when we noticed that they were selling off their industrial shelving at $2 a shelf,” recalls Phyllis. “We bought $60 worth of shelving for the basement. That gave us three floor to ceiling units that are 12 feet wide. They were a great find.” Recycle things from one area of your house to another. He used cabinets from their old kitchen in their basement. If you are buying kitchen cabinets, stick with standard sizes. Custom-sized cabinets are more money. When you reach the stage where only the decorating is left to do, step away from the project for a period of time.

“You can’t decorate a whole house immediately after doing the construction,” says Phyllis. “It’s too much.” Whatever your project, expect comments from neighbors.

Phyllis says friends will also ask, on a continual basis and in an incredulous manner, “Are you still working on your house?”

Budget Kitchen Renovation

Since the average kitchen renovation can run anywhere from$10,000 to $15,000, can she get the new look she wants?

Local kitchen designers say yes.

Carol Watts, of Gravelle Kitchen and Bath Studio in Burlington, says a limited budget doesn’t have to be limiting. Winner of an international award in 1987 for one of her kitchen designs, she points out that costs rise when major structural changes are made and when expensive materials are used.

Watts notes that many people give their kitchens an updated look by simply installing new doors, knobs, countertop and flooring.

When planning any renovation, the kitchen designer says a plan mapping out your strategy is essential.

According to Watts, a basic plan can cost as little as $75. Included in that should be a list of your wants, needs and things you are willing to compromise on.

She explains that laminate cabinets are the least expensive and even within this group there are varying prices.

When choosing doors for wooden cabinets, Watts says raised panelled styles are more expensive than recessed panelled doors. She adds that solid brass handles and knobs are more expensive than plastic ones. However, you could delay this purchase until you can afford exactly what you want.

As for countertops, she says post-formed laminate ones are the least costly, while self-edged or wood-edged laminate countertops are comparable in price to ceramic ones.

In flooring, Watts notes that vinyl tiles or sheet goods will be cheaper than ceramic tiles and hardwood flooring which are nearly equal in price get more information.

Like Watts, Dick DeKline, owner of Canadian Century Cabinets in Hamilton, says he isn’t stumped by clients who have tight budgets. All he needs to know is whether the budget includes new appliances, flooring, sinks etc.

“Once we know that then we can direct you to the line of cabinets that will suit your budget.”

Although wanting cherry or mahogany cabinets and being able to afford them are two different things, DeKline says there are ways around the dilemma.

“You could go with maple wood, which is less expensive, and have it stained to look like cherry.”

According to DeKline, he would rather see consumers save another six months to revamp a kitchen, than waste their money on poor quality.

He adds that when buying cabinets you can’t go by looks. Before being taken in by appearance and low prices, he recommends that people compare construction and materials used and ask for referrals.

“If a company isn’t willing to show you how their cabinets are constructed and finished, or if they won’t give you referrals, don’t deal with them.”

Mike Mark, a sales rep for Holiday Kitchens in Greensville, points out that money can be saved on a kitchen renovation without sacrificing quality, if you are willing to replace, rather than redesign.

Another cost-saver he suggests is in eliminating extras such as banks of drawers, roll-out shelves, pantry units and fridge cabinets. Expenses can also be kept down on custom cabinetry if you opt for a semi-solid interior such as plywood or melamine, rather than solid wood.

The following are some tips on how to judge cabinets:

Quality cabinets will have doors made of solid wood or plywood. A wood effect printed on hardboard indicates a cheaper quality cabinet.

On quality cabinets, the wood grain on doors will match the grain on the frame.

Drawer construction can be an indicator of overall cabinet quality. Self-closing drawers should be mounted on a pair of balanced metal slides with ball bearing rollers. The drawer slides should be rated to support 75 pounds or more per pair.

The drawers will be well made if they are constructed with screws and dowels or interlocking joints, rather than glue and staples. Look too for drawer bottoms that are as thick as the sides.